Author Archives: Damien Stevens-Todd

Submission to the Tasmania Law Reform Institute (TLRI) – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices

Issue Paper 31 – November 2020 (PDF available here)

Introduction and overview
The Uniting Church LGBTIQ+ Network (hereafter ‘Uniting Network’) is the national network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) people, our families, friends, and allies within the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). We are an independent national network in the UCA. We are officially recognised within the UCA and work within the structures and various Councils of the Church, but we do not represent or speak for the UCA.

Our ministry and advocacy for LGBTIQ+ people and communities are based on our Christian faith. This is summarised in a 2006 statement from the UCA’s national assembly, that

The Uniting Church believes that every person is precious and entitled to live with dignity because they are God’s children, and that each person’s life and rights need to be protected or the human community (and its reflection of God) and all people are diminished*.

This submission has been prepared by Nicole Mugford, a member of the Uniting Network national executive. Nicole states that Nicole is “a survivor of conversion practices (in SA) and am currently residing in Melbourne and representing Uniting Network as the Victorian member and am the key point person for conversion practice legislation and consultation work with Uniting Network. I have consulted and advocated in the development of the Victorian legislation over the last two years.” This submission has been approved by the Uniting Network executive after conversation with the executive and various Network members.

* The Uniting Church’s most comprehensive statement on human dignity was made in 2006 in a document titled “Dignity in Humanity: Recognising Christ in Every person”. In Cynthia Coghill and Elenie Poulos, (Eds), For a World Reconciled, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Sydney, 2016, pp 127-131.

Response to TLRI questions

  1. After considering the background and working definition (see [1.3.23] on page 13), in your opinion, what are and are not ‘sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices’?

Uniting Network are supporters of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivor Statement^. We support the definition in the TLRI issues paper as also expressed in the SOGICE Survivor Statement. We believe it is necessary to include in the TLRI definition those practices by which people are removed from Tasmania for the purpose of sexual orientation and gender identity change or conversion practices. It is our view that the Bill currently before the Victorian Parliament (Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill, 2020) meets very high standards and thus merits careful consideration by other jurisdictions.

^ https://socesurvivors.com.au/

  1. Should people be allowed to consent to SOGI conversion practices? If so, at what age and under what conditions?

In our assessment it is not possible for anyone to give fully informed consent to conversion practices (CPs). The main reason is that such conversion practices are are based on false and misleading claims about sexual orientation and gender identity. Because of the way prejudiced attitudes are ingrained into individuals from a young age, individuals are made to feel inferior and that ‘conversion’ is the only available option to find freedom and continue in religious faith. Therefore, our view is that any ban on practices should include children and adults whether seemingly consenting or not.

  1. Have you been involved in or offered, or are you aware of, any forms of SOGI conversion practices in Tasmania? If so, what were the effects on you, or the person exposed to them?

While some of the members of the Uniting Network executive have experienced conversion practices and are aware of practices happening in Tasmania, we do not have specific stories to share.

  1. Do you think that Tasmanian law should be changed to address SOGI conversion practices? If so, should this be through comprehensive reform, amendment, or both (a hybrid)?

It is our view that legislation should be introduced banning conversion practices, inducement to undergo conversion practices, advertising conversion practices, and referring a person to conversion practices, and removing a person Tasmania for the purpose of conversion practices. There should be comprehensive legislation to send the strongest possible message that CPs are unacceptable. It is vital that Tasmanian law is changed to address this issue. Strong legislation on banning SOGI conversion practices will save lives. It is necessary to realise that this issue is not primarily an issue of religious freedom but one of human rights and the dignity and value of all people. It is important that any legislation includes banning conversion practices, both formal and informal, that happen in religious contexts. It is our view that amendments to existing crimes or health legislation will not sufficiently address the bulk of conversion practices and therefore a new law is required.

  1. Should some or all forms of SOGI conversion practices be criminalised in Tasmania? If so, which, if any, should be dealt with as serious (indictable) crimes and which, if any, should be dealt with as less serious (summary) offences?

Those who administer conversion practices or who perpetuate conversion ideology in formal or clinical settings as well as information settings should be subject to greater penalties, which may include criminal charges. CPs should be criminal offences and be indictable because of the serious and life-threatening harm they cause. Please refer to the research findings of La Trobe University, in partnership with Macquarie, AGMC and Brave Network, for more information about the harms caused by conversion practices.

  1. Should some or all forms of SOGI conversion practices be made civil wrongs in Tasmania? If so, what sort of practices should people be liable for and how should those subject to such practices be compensated?

Uniting Network’s view is that any practices that are (a) focused on the individual, (b) grounded in the intent to change or suppress, and (c) cause injury or serious injury, should be subject to criminal penalties, regardless of whether those practices occur in religious settings, professional settings, paid or unpaid. Practices that don’t fulfil all three of the criminal criteria but are serious or systemic should be referred to a civil investigation process. Civil penalties, eg. fines with no criminal record, should be implemented for people found to have delivered conversion practices where those practices have not fulfilled the criminal criteria but have been found to be serious or systemic.

  1. Should any existing Tasmanian laws (besides criminal laws or the Civil Liability Act 2002 (Tas)) be amended to cover SOGI conversion practices? If so, which ones and in what way?

As a general approach the Tasmanian Parliament should enact either a Tasmanian Human Rights Act or a Charter of Rights to ensure a framework for protecting the rights and freedoms of all Tasmanians, including LGBTIQ+ Tasmanians. The national assembly of the Uniting church has advocated for a national Bill of Rights~.

There should be considering changes in the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Tasmania) Act 2010 for the deregistration of any health practitioner who refers a person for CP or engages directly or indirectly in CP.

~ See “Dignity in Humanity: Recognising Christ in Every person”. In Cynthia Coghill and Elenie Poulos, (Eds), For a World Reconciled, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Sydney, 2016, pp 134 – 136.

  1. Are there any other models or approaches that are preferable to, or should complement, changing the law?

The Uniting Network supports a legislative guiding principle based on the view that survivor advocates be given a priority focus and that survivors should be involved in all aspects of consultation, legislation, and advocacy.

  1. Are there any other matters that you consider relevant to this Inquiry and would like to raise?

A further legislative guiding principle should propose affirmation for the dignity and rights of LGBTIQ+ people. In addition, there also need to be education and research readily available to help religious institutions, among others, to recognise the harm perpetrated by conversion practices and the importance of affirming LGBTIQ+ people in their communities. A redress scheme for the ongoing support for survivors should be considered, along with the ways in which appropriate mental health support programs can be provided to survivors of conversion practices.

Submission approved by the Uniting Church LGBTIQ+ Network executive
27 January 2021

PRESS RELEASE: UNA WELCOMES VICTORIAN CONVERSION PRACTICES PROHIBITION BILL

8 December 2020

Uniting Network, the Uniting Church’s LGBTIQ Network welcomes the proposed legislation in Victoria titled the ‘Change and Suppression (conversion) Practices Prohibition bill’ and urges particularly Victorian Uniting Network members to show their support for this bill by writing to local MPs in support for this legislation.

Jason Masters, Co-Convenor comments, “Uniting Network welcomes this long-awaited bill and as partners of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivors Statement, we know it will make an important difference in the lives of many LGBTQ+(*) people. We call on other states to follow this example so there is national protection for LGBTQ+ people.”

The SOGICE Survivors Network asserts that conversion practices are far more prevalent in Australian faith communities than has previously been understood, particularly when including informal conversion practices that occur in pastoral care contexts.

Uniting Network believes that this bill moves towards the protection of LGBTQ+ individuals from harmful practices which occur in both formal settings but also in informal practices of pastoral care, prayer ministries and small groups. In preparation for this bill, there has been careful work to hear the stories and experiences of both survivors of conversion practices and religious leaders.

Nicole Mugford the Victorian representative on the Uniting Network Executive says “This bill is such a vital piece of legislation for LGBTQ+ people. It acknowledges the harm caused by both formal and informal conversion practices and the underpinning false and misleading claims and causes that are harmful and unscientific. LGBTQ+ people including LGBTQ+ people of faith should be free to practice their faith, live their life and participate in all aspects of society, without being treated as if they are ‘disordered’ or ‘broken’.”

We are very concerned that many conservative Christian groups will campaign against this vital piece of legislation claiming it represents and attack on religious freedom and also adults rights to seek religious counsel. Uniting Network know that many LGBTQ+ people have subject themselves to both formal and informal conversion practices in the past because they are striving to be accepted by the communities they grew up in, when those same communities reject their natural sexual orientation and gender identity which cannot be changed and therefore ultimately reject LGBTIQ+ people. What we know is that God loves all people, as they are. Conversion Practices in any form is abusive and leads at best to long term mental health issues, at worst suicide.

Rev Leanne Jenski & Jason Masters (Co-Convenors)

For further information, please contact Jason Masters, National Co-Convenor on 0407780110 jasonmasters@me.com or Nicole Mugford Victorian Representative on 0412 317 075 Or nicole.mugford@hotmail.com

(*) Please note, that religious LGBTQ+ change and suppression practices have not included forced medical interventions on people born with intersex variations. Hence the focus on “LGBTQ+” but not “I” practices. Although, of course, some intersex people are LGBTQ+ and have been subject to religious LGBTQ+ change and suppression practices.

Download full press release here.

UNITING NETWORK EXPRESSES CONCERN REGARDING TIME FOR CONSULTATION ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM EXPOSURE DRAFTS

Uniting Network, the LGBTIQ network within the Uniting Church in Australia, expresses its concern around the short period to respond to the Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation released today.

Co-convenor Rev. Peter Weeks commented that “It is our view that there is no need or demonstrable evidence for new religious freedom legislation. It is our position that existing legislation that permits discrimination against LGBTIQ people in religious organisations is not only wrong but not theologically sustainable.”

Rev. Weeks further commented, “The Liberal National Coalition Government put the LGBTIQ community through an unnecessary and vitriolic postal survey campaign over an extended time period. That process created significant mental health issues for the LGBTIQ community that are still reverberating within the community today.”

“The Ruddock Inquiry was held in secret, and the final report withheld from the community for an extended period. During the development of these proposed pieces of legislation, there has been extensive consultations with communities of faith in developing these drafts, however there has been no consultation with the LGBTIQ community, who are the clear targets of these draft legislation.”

“There is just over a month for the community to comment on the exposure drafts which are extensive and their implication to the LGBTIQ community potentially severe.

We strongly call on the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to undertake a significant consultation period with the LGBTIQ community and delay any attempts to bring legislation to Parliament until the middle of 2020 at the earliest.”

Uniting Network will provide additional information and details on our specific concerns with the draft legislation once we have had an opportunity to digest and analyse them thoroughly.

     **** END STATEMENT ***

OTHER BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR MEDIA:
Contact Jason Masters, Secretary – 0407780110, jasonmasters@me.com

Resources for Open and Affirming Congregations.
The Uniting Church LGBTIQ network has launched a new suite of educational resources for congregations, study groups and individuals. The resources cover a range of topics from how to become “open and affirming” to queer young people, children, language, gender identity, sexuality and the Scriptures. All can be downloaded from http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/open-and-affirming-project/

UNITING NETWORK EXPRESSES CONCERN IN RELATION TO PRIME MINISTER MORRISON’S COMMENTS AROUND CRICKET AUSTRALIA’S TRANSGENDER POLICY

Uniting Network, the LGBTIQ network within the Uniting Church in Australia expresses its concern around the commentary attributed to Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison concerning the release earlier this week by Cricket Australia of its policy for transgender athletes local to elite levels.

Co-convenor Hannah Reeve commented that “the Prime Minister, since coming to office, has made some negative comments concerning transgender people, a community who have some of the highest suicide rates in our society.”

Hannah further commented, “Uniting Network welcomed the policy position of Cricket Australia as a fair and balanced approach to ensure the inclusion of transgender people in their sporting code.”

Secretary of Uniting Network, Jason Masters, added “We know from the global sporting study “Out on the Field”[i] that LGBTIQ people leave sport due to the way they perceive being treated as an LGBTIQ sportsperson.  Eighty percent of the Australian study participants stated experiencing or witnessing homophobia in sport. We also know that one of the mechanisms to improve people’s mental health is engaging in sporting activities. On the one hand, the Prime Minister is very concerned, appropriately, around mental health issues across Australia, and we are thankful the Prime Minister in his election promised to increase funding for LGBTIQ mental health services. It is disappointing that the Prime Minister on the other hand is effectively adding to the mental health issues of transgender people by making, what we at Uniting Network believe, are not fully informed and inappropriate comments.”

Jason Masters stated that “Cricket Australia is not the trailblazer in this space, and many other sporting codes already have transgender inclusion policies with sports as an example as Volleyball Australia having policies for addressing transgender people at elite levels dating before 2012[ii]

Jason Masters concluded “part of our disappointment is that earlier this year the Australian Human Rights Commission, Sports Australia and The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports issued the “Guidelines for Inclusions of transgender and Gender Diverse People in Sport”. I call on Mr Morrison to be aware of where the sporting sector is moving in this area, and more generally around the inclusion of transgender people in all aspects of our society.”

Finally, Hannah stated “As a community of Christian LGBTIQ people we call on all to be respectful and inclusive of transgender people. We would be delighted to meet with the Prime Minister to further discuss our concerns with him.”

Download a PDF copy of this statement here.


[i] http://www.outonthefields.com

[ii] http://nswvolleyball.com/images/members/MPP_27_July_2012.pdf

Media Release | Open and Affirming resources launched at Synod meeting

A suite of 15 new resources have been launched with the aim of supporting Uniting Church congregations which seek to fully affirm LGBTIQ people, same-sex couples and families.

“Uniting Network is proud to have produced a comprehensive series of resources on LGBTIQ related topics to assist congregations and faith communities who are looking to explore what it means to be inclusive and affirming,” announced National Co-Convenor, Hannah Reeve.

“The resources address issues such as coming out, gender diversity, rainbow families, language, marriage and queer young people. These are important pastoral and justice issues for church members,” stated Ms Reeve.

The series also contains guidelines for becoming an Open and Affirming congregation, an overview of current Uniting Church policies and a discussion of human sexuality and the Bible.

Ms Reeve thanked and congratulated the Rev Dr Rod Pattenden who co-ordinated the series, with the support of a team based in Newcastle which included the LGBTI Project Officer with Uniting NSW/ACT, Claire Allen.  “The team have done a superb job in covering a diverse range of topics, in leaflets which are concise, readable and relevant at this time for our church and beyond.”

The Open and Affirming resources are available at www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au or by request to affirming@unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au

Contact Hannah Reeve, 0438 386 383